Toward a Trinitarian Worldview: The Soul

May 7, 2008 — 1 Comment

“Thinking of my personhood being grounded in the Trinity,” said Martin, “How does that establish an understanding of human nature?”

Seeing the gears turn like this made Vasiliy smile, “We trace our grounding of humanity in God back to Genesis 1, where God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image,’ so that would seem the best place to start.”

“So man as a person is reflective of the image of God?”

“Your identity as a person is only known in relation to God,” said Vasiliy, “And only as you know more of Who you image, will you understand yourself more.[i]”

“I see,” said Martin, “The more that I truly understand God’s nature, the more I will understand my own, and the more I understand the persons of the Trinity the more I will be able to understand just what it means to be a person.”

“Your understanding is picking up speed,” said Vasiliy, “What other questions do you have?”

Martin thought for a minute, trying to assimilate his thoughts on personhood, but could only come up with a structural question

“How do you conceive of the whole dichotomy/trichotomy problem?” Martin asked, “You know, in light of what you seem to hold about the heart playing a part in your consciousness.”

“Ahh, I was wondering whether or not you would broach this subject,” said Vasiliy, “From my perspective on the issue, I find that the heart’s ability to play into my consciousness helps explain my experiences further, however, as far as relating it to the psychology of man, I do not designate it as one of the components in the discussion, but would rather say it is an avenue that the spirit manifests its presence within the body.[ii]”

“Oh ok, so what are the components on your view?”

“Essentially, I conceive of man as having a spirit and a body,” said Vasiliy, “The heart as an organ, as well as the brain, being a part of the latter.”

“Then what about the soul?”

“This is where I would diverge slightly from theories you may be familiar with,” said Vasiliy, “I conceive of the soul as being the resultant of a spirit being united with a body, not necessarily a ‘thing’ in its own right, that is, it only exists when those two components are in union.[iii]”

“Interesting,” said Martin, “How did you come to that idea?”

“Mostly from my own studies in the Scriptures,” said Vasiliy, “I had the privilege of spending a long winter up in New York, not long after I became a believer, just reading the Bible over and over again and predominately built my theological understandings from that total immersion.”

“I guess there’s not too much else to do through the winter months up there, right?”

“That’s partially true,” said Vasiliy, “But in any case, starting in Genesis 2:7, it would seem God created a body for Adam, gave him a spirit, and then called the resultant union a soul, and it just seems through the rest of the Old Testament that soul seems to refer to what a person is rather than what a person has.[iv]”

“I had never thought of that quite like that before.”

“It is really a fascinating way to proceed, for if you trace the threads throughout Scripture, you find passages that use the word soul make sense if you conceive of it as standing in metonymy for the whole person, not necessarily a part of the person,[v]” said Vasiliy, “Also, thinking of the soul’s existence as being tied specifically to the body, that is, requiring a body to function fully, makes sense of even more, especially such passages that talk of the soul being satisfied with meat and drink.[vi]”

“How is it tied specifically to the body?”

“I believe the possession of a soul is coterminous with having a central nervous system, and to segregate man from the animals that are spoken of in Genesis as also possessing a soul[vii] I would say, man receives a properly human spirit given by God to a human body,[viii]” said Vasiliy, “And if the human heart is the possible contact point where the spirit is received, we have an interesting  confirmation of our theory, as physiologically speaking, the functioning of the nervous system depends on the blood, something actually confirmed in Leviticus, where it says that ‘the life of the flesh is in the blood.’[ix]”

“But is that viable, I mean, do the others doctors you work with give credence to that sort of theory?”

“On the whole, we tend to proceed with caution in nailing down where the spirit comes into the body, and a good many of my colleagues do not share my religious convictions in the slightest, much less have this kind of theological pursuit driving their understanding,” said Vasiliy, “But those of us who do have convictions, and those who at least open to the possibility, tend to unanimously agree that if the spirit made contact somewhere in the physical body, it would be in the heart.[x]”

“This is a lot to really digest, I’ll have to look into it for myself, but your thoughts on this are really fascinating.”

“Well I hope you will, before we part ways I’ll give you a few books that could start your search for definitive answers.”

“That would be pretty sweet,” said Martin, “So just to clarify part of all this, your basic idea is that the soul doesn’t exist on its own, but it emerges when a spirit and a body are united, correct?”

“Essentially, yes,” said Vasiliy, “Maybe an illustration will help you visualize it better.”

“Alright”

Vasiliy reached into his pocket, producing a key chain with two colored discs on it, one yellow, the other blue.

“Let’s consider that this yellow disc represents the body, and this blue one represents the spirit.” Saying this, he slowly slid them together so that the perfectly overlapped one another.

“Now that they have been unified, it now appears to be a single green disc, which on my analogy, is the soul,” said Vasiliy, “Whatever can be said of either the spirit or the body, could readily in Scripture be attributed to the soul, since that stands for the whole man, and in fact, that is what we see.[xi] Considering the soul to result physiologically from the presence of a spirit in the body, from my perspective, makes sense of both my work as a cardiologist, and my faith as an Orthodox believer.”

“That does make things a lot clearer now, I like your analogy with the colored discs.”

“I’ve found that it helps whenever I try to explain my understanding of human psychology,” said Vasiliy, “A little simplicity can go a long way toward clarifying one’s ideas.”


[i] Robert L. Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” in Christian Perspectives on Being Human: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Integration, ed. J. P. Moreland and David M. Ciocchi (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 20.

[ii] While not pursued here, in a metaphorical sense (and also the Biblical usage), the heart is the fountainhead of behavior and is really the avenue through which the spirit manifests itself in the physical body, and is thereby the primary organ through which the resultant soul functions (Ibid., 41.) The heart could be thought of a component, and physiologically a case could be made for it being where the spirit enters the body (think of the unity of the cardiovascular system, there is a reason why doctors prefer to transplant hearts and lungs together rather than either in isolation), however, it is not the heart per se that is a component, but the spirit which enlivens it and gives rise to the soul as we will see below.

[iii] The following discussion is mostly adapted from an essay entitled “A Fresh Look at the Meaning of the Word ‘Soul'” appearing in Arthur C. Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, vol. V, The Doorway Papers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 260-91. But was independently verified through researching other sources such as H. Seebass, “Nephesh,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef  Fabry, trans. David E. Green, vol. IX (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998). And Edmond Jacob, “Psuche: The Anthropology of the Old Testament,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. IX (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974). And Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature.”

[iv] For a more thorough treatment of this idea, see Seebass, “Nephesh,” 497-519. Looking at the meanings of this word that is usually the Hebrew word behind the English word ‘soul,’ it seems the soul is most intimately connected with the idea of breathing and senses and therefore the very essence of the person, and is therefore not a component per se of that person.  Of the meanings listed, Seebass notes that the OT usage requires some level of harmonization of the possible options. In order they are: throat/gullet, desire, vital self/reflexive pronoun, and individuated life.  In commenting on translating the word as soul over and against throat/gullet or desire, Seebass asserts that it is not simply the need for nourishment or satiation involved but, the whole person as soul is thought of  as a figure of joy in life and vitality. None of these elements it seems should be confused with the idea of spirit that is woven throughout the Bible elsewhere, and while the words may seem to be used somewhat interchangeably, it is doubtful that that is truly the case. Saucy notes that many times the words are used in an aspectival sense rather than a substantival sense (Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” 31.) This makes sense and has more intrinsic explanatory power when perusing the Old and New Testament usages of nephesh and psuche respectively. Turning to the NT, in gathering background for psuche, we also have confirmation that nephesh properly accords with a man’s total nature, for what he is, and not just what he has (Jacob, “Psuche: The Anthropology of the Old Testament,” 620.) Looking further into actual usage of psuche in the New Testament, it is primarily connected with the man as a whole and is the first instance of physical life (Eduard Schweizer, “Psuche: The New Testament,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. IX (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 639.) Following from this, one can see how ‘life’ can be thought of as being possessed by an individual (think of Jesus’ use of saving/losing the soul) but it is certainly not a component of a man, it is simply the resultant of a human body made of dust being enlivened by the breath of God (i.e. a spirit). The other usages listed for psuche all point to the person as a whole, or different aspects of the person as a whole. In distinction to the use of spirit (pneuma), the soul is capable of being slain, persecuted or hated (Schweizer, “Psuche: The New Testament,” 654. ). While the spirit can be thought of as standing for the whole man as well, it always presents man in special aspect. Psuche, more closely tied to the heart (kardia) which has an emphasis on the will and conscious inward participation, is connected very essentially with physical life, but it is not identical with it. It seems very appropriate in light of all of this to follow the outline we have already set up that being that a person consists of a human body enlivened by a spirit given by God and results in a soul.

[v] This is probably sufficiently grounded in the above quotations, but just by way of a more contemporary explanation, the great emphasis upon man is as a living being, and while it may used for various aspects of a person, the underlying thought is of the actions or characteristics of the person as a holistic entity (Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” 38-41).

[vi] See such passages as Dt 23:25(24), Isa. 29:8, 55:2; Prov 16:26, 27:7; Hos. 9:4. For more see entry under “Desire” in Seebass, “Nephesh,” 505-08.

[vii] Genesis 1, in the original, in v. 20, 21, 24, & 30 the word nephesh is used of animals first, before being applied specifically to man. See Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, 270.

[viii] See Eccl 12:7, Zech 12:1, Num 16:22. Clearly, from several Biblical passages, the Spirit that man receives comes from God directly.

[ix] Leviticus 17:11, also, the word life is nephesh in the original, so it could possibly be rendered, “the soul of the flesh is in the blood.” This is tends to tie the existence of the soul’s manifestation in the body to wherever blood is flowing. Genesis 9 tends to also confirm this idea by stating that “the life (or soul) of flesh is in the blood,” which is why it is wrong to shed the blood of another. It should also be noted that feeling (or consciousness) disappears rather quickly in any part of the body that loses blood flow. This does not conclusively prove the hypothesis, but definitely supports the idea.

[x] Childre and Martin, The Heartmath Solution, 260-61.

[xi] Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, 269-70. The illustration comes from this author as well, I am not that clever on my own.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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